Along with most people, I was saddened to hear of the senseless death of a cinematographer on an Alec Baldwin movie set. Politics have no place when dealing with initial emotions on hearing of such a tragic death.
If unaware, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed when a firearm being held by Baldwin on a movie set discharged, killing the young woman. She leaves a husband and a young child.
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With the passing of time, questions begin to arise, including:
1. How was it possible for a loaded gun to have been handed to Baldwin?
2. Regardless of what “prop masters” may have said, didn’t Baldwin check the weapon to assure himself it was either unloaded or using blanks?
3. Why would a weapon ever be pointed at the cinematographer?
As for that first question, it is reported that when handed the weapon Baldwin was told it was “cold,” which is to say it was unloaded or holding blanks. As such, it should be relatively safe.
A word about blanks, though. Back in the days when I worked as an actor with a repertory theater group, we would on occasion use a gun with blanks for a scene. In Of Mice and Men, based on a novella of the same title by John Steinbeck, the script calls for a character named George to shoot a huge, simple-minded lug of a man named Lennie. In context, it is a mercy killing.
The general stage instruction, for safety purposes, is for the shooter to aim slightly away from the targeted person. The audience can’t tell. I learned why one night when, after one show, I saw “Lennie” take off his shirt to show a huge welt on his back. The shooter did not follow the instruction to aim slightly away from the target. Despite what folks may believe, blanks can be dangerous.
It has also been reported that the “prop” gun was handed to Baldwin by a person who is alleged to have been involved in previous unsafe practices on film sets. It is easy for unsafe practices to begin to emerge when focused discipline and diligence begin to lag over time.
I can almost guarantee that there are millions of people – millions I say – who, when they first heard the story, wondered how this could even possibly happen. Why would they wonder? Because they have been properly trained in the use of firearms.
And that gets to the other two questions mentioned above.
I live on the side of a mountain in western North Carolina. When I go outside for a walk, which admittedly is less than I used to, I often carry a weapon. There are various woodland creatures where I live, including mountain cats and bears. With a prosthetic leg, in a “fight or flight” scenario flight is simply not an option for me.
So, I went through the training required for a concealed carry permit in North Carolina, my tutor being a county deputy sheriff. And having completed that training, and having kept up with safety techniques since, I know I could never have succumbed to what Baldwin experienced. And neither would the millions of other well-trained users of firearms.
Anyone, anyone at all, who hands me a weapon, whether they tell me it’s unloaded or not, I will break that weapon down. If a semi-automatic, I’ll remove the magazine and rack it to remove any possible cartridge in the chamber. If a revolver, I’ll open the chamber and visually affirm that it is unloaded.
There are cases of untrained or poorly trained gun owners entering a gun shop and not realizing they have a loaded weapon. That’s why the gun shop clerk will always – always – check that weapon personally to make sure it is not loaded.
Loaded or unloaded, basic safety techniques demand that your finger never enter the trigger well unless you are prepared to shoot. That’s why you see those trained in the use of weapons have their trigger fingers spread out flat against the side of the weapon.
Further, loaded or unloaded, one should never, never ever, ever, ever, point a weapon at a person unless you are intending to shoot that person. That is an imperative, an unbreakable rule. A firearm is not a plaything.
Alec Baldwin, it would appear, violated each of these basic safety techniques, the following of any one of which would have saved the life of that young cinematographer.
But I suppose that is not all that surprising. Mr. Baldwin is a long-time critic of gun owners and the National Rifle Association. He is famous for his dispute with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. And, in a 2017 tweet he showed no sympathy for a police officer who discharged his weapon on a man in the midst of a physical confrontation. “I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone” he sneeringly wrote. Well, he need wonder no more.
Any of the millions upon millions of trained gun owners could have saved Baldwin from tragedy and the cinematographer from death. But his attitude appears to have been, what can I possibly learn from people like that? What indeed!
There is a deeper structure of meaning here. In Greek mythology there is a Titan God named Prometheus, who brings technology and knowledge to humans in the form of fire. In the 19th century Romantic Movement, the term “Promethean” came to be used to describe those who sought to stretch the bounds of human knowledge through science and technology.
We’ve all heard of the novel Frankenstein. Do you know the subtitle? It is “The Modern Prometheus.” Dr. Frankenstein, of course, pursues science to create life from nothing, thus going where no man should be going to create as did the Biblical Creator. But what he created was a monster, who killed members of his creator’s family in his anger at being rejected by his creator.
The meaning of “Prometheus” is forethought. Whether she meant it to be ironic or not, the writer of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, wrote a story in which the protagonist lacks foresight into what he is doing by going beyond the natural limits of life.
By way of an aside, I hereby sentence Dr. Anthony Fauci and all others engaged in “gain of function” research on deadly viruses to read Frankenstein, and then truly think about what they read. Not that it would make any difference, but maybe worth a shot.
The Dr. Frankenstein of the novel is more like Prometheus’s brother, the little recognized and rarely commented upon Epimetheus. Epimetheus means afterthought. It is one who recognizes the terrible repercussions of an act only after they do the act. Epimetheus was warned by his brother Prometheus to not accept any gifts from Zeus. He didn’t listen, and married Pandora, a gift from Zeus, who, when she opened her mythical Pandora’s Box, brought plague upon the world.
Alec Baldwin is an Epimethean character. As such, he tends more toward impulsive actions rather than well thought out ones. The unintended consequences of his actions often bring about pain and suffering to himself and to others. He then regrets, as in an afterthought, his actions. Recall his various run-ins with paparazzi and others. Such folks also tend toward instant gratification rather than delayed gratification. The latter requires considerable forethought and discipline as to how one might best achieve their long-term goals.
In the movie industry, I dare say, it is those qualities of impulsiveness and improvisation that are rewarded, so it’s not unusual to find actors all showing signs of “epimetheanism” in their work. Picking up that “prop” gun – which is a real gun, despite the seemingly innocuous notion of it being a prop – with no foresight into the well-regarded discipline needed when handling a firearm, is thoughtless and negligent. What he is now experiencing is Epimethean.
I really don’t want to be unfair to Baldwin. It is hard to hold someone responsible for that about which they are ignorant.
There is a sense in which I have a great advantage over Baldwin. When I was a kid playing with a BB gun in a friend’s basement an accident happened that seared itself into my soul. While my friend was resetting the target, I was playing with the BB gun, my finger in the trigger well. It went off, and a BB hit my friend in the back. It stung him, but fortunately there was no real damage or need for medical attention. But boy did that wake me up to the danger. I learned my lesson.
There will be an investigation into the Baldwin shooting and I’m guessing someone will be held responsible for negligence, possibly criminal negligence, in the accident.
Aside from that, one thing I know for a certainty is that Alec Baldwin will never, ever, make this mistake again.
Reality can be a cruel, but effective, taskmaster.
By Ron Nutter
Ron Nutter is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative, and retired college professor of Philosophy and Religion living in a cabin on a mountain in Western North Carolina with his retired physician wife, and he still reads voraciously.
Photo is a screengrab from CBS News Chicago.